Swing-District Voters Decide Elections, Not Pundits

The Back Booth is a Weekend Edition of The D.C. Brief. Here each Saturday, TIME’s politics newsletter will host a conversation between political professionals on the right and the left, pulling back the curtain on the conversations taking place in Washington when the tape stops rolling. Subscribe to The D.C. Brief Click here.

It’s easy to forget sometimes, but citizens of the District of Columbia don’t actually get to decide the results of the midterm elections.

As Washington was edging out performative anxiety this week, clever strategists looked beyond Washington to see how regulation may be reverberating at precinct levels, what economic indicators might spook pension fund funds and how the U.S.-Mexico Border crisis can be spun into a political narrative. Although facts and stories are distinct concepts in American politics both of them can be leveraged.

The D.C. Brief spoke with two business strategists who are highly factual throughout the week via email. To the right Danny Diaz helped President George W. Bush confirm two Supreme Court justices, has served as a top spokesman for the Republican National Committee, and was the chief of Jeb Bush’s White House bid—one of the four presidential campaigns he’s worked on.

You can see the links to the right Scott MerrickHe has experience in elected office work, going back to his youth years in New Hampshire’s legislature. More recently, he served as Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s liaison to the business community in New Hampshire, as Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s New Hampshire chief, and later as Joe Biden’s senior adviser in the Granite State.

Both have joined the ranks of consultants. This conversation was lightly edited.

Elliott: So, it’s Monday and I just Observed President Biden make a big deal about finalizing the ‘ghost gun rule’ and nominate an ATF chief. The politics surrounding guns are something you both understand. Is this going to do anything to energize the President’s base, or is this just going to antagonize folks who really like their guns? Is this really a good policy decision that could save lives?

Merrick: Regardless of your point of view on guns, I don’t think this ghost gun rule does anything to really move the needle on gun policy or politics. Is it going to be annoying for gun advocates? Probably. Is this the issue that drives Democrats to action? It is unlikely. It will save lives. That is what I believe. Seven months from now when voters are going to the polls, I don’t think it’ll be this rule that moves Democrats to action. In fact, seven months from now, I’d be shocked if the vast majority of voters really know or remember this rule.

Handgun policy and regulations are important if gun policy’s goal is to save lives. Pew Research found that handguns were responsible for 59% of all gun-related deaths in 2020. Pew Research found that suicide-related gun deaths were far more common than guns-related murders in 2020. Gun-related deaths can be saved by more than simply a prohibition on ghost guns.

Diaz: Many Americans want both functionality and normalcy in government. Biden was a Washington veteran with a natural ability to relate with people emotionally and his decades-long experience, made him popular with swing voters. Biden’s actions on a host of issues seem to confirm that he is seeking to hold onto voters who should already be in his corner. People desired a leader capable of getting things done. They got someone who was not capable of leading effectively and collaboratively.

Elliott: It looks like the White House has moved into a new location ChannelingGet some Disney today Humming We Don’t Talk About Manchin. Is there any way Biden’s social-spending plan gets resurrected?

Diaz: The President Biden has already given up his political capital at this stage and is unable to persuade people in Capitol Hill. To the degree the social-spending agenda is in play, there is a whole lot more outside the Biden Administration’s control than within it. In fact, if the response to the White House’s position on Title 42 is any indication, they should prepare themselves for more Democrats in Washington visibly breaking with them in an effort to present a veneer of independence.

Merrick In March, wages were higher. The unemployment rate has remained close to its pre-COVID level.

The American Rescue Plan and his leadership on vaccinations are just a few of the many promises President Biden made during his campaign. A historic bipartisan infrastructure bill was passed by him that will allow for critical investments throughout the country.

More needs to be done. Inflation is an issue. American families are being affected by rising gas prices and high grocery store prices. This President can deliver what his predecessors couldn’t in just four years if the Biden Administration and Congress work together to pass bipartisan measures to directly lower costs such as childcare tax credits.

Diaz: Shot. Chaser.

Merrick: While these news clippings that Danny flagged do provide a general summation of the moment, especially politically, they don’t quite capture the economic signals that point to inflation possibly plateauing. Politico reports that core inflation fell and key indicators suggest that there could be a slowing of inflation.

Elliott: That’s a pretty accurate summation of the moment. And one I’m not sure the White House fully gets right now. We all recall circa 2010 when it felt like the Obama Administration was fighting for its life every single day—and, on many, losing—but still managed to win a second term. That’s little comfort for House Democrats, but it is instructive.

Diaz: Concur.

Merrick: I agree, and especially with the point that many Americans may not necessarily fully understand inflation, but they do understand rising prices for everyday items and they’re going to blame whoever is in power. But it’s also only April and the electorate tends to have a very short-term memory. Perhaps Democrats could avoid repeating 2010 if prices fall before the fall.

Diaz: Here are a few points. The non-white voter is more likely to state that the most inflation since 1940 has caused major financial stress in their lives than the white voter. This appears to give Republicans an opportunity with a segment of the electorate which traditionally favours Democrats and the Wall Street latest Wall Street. JournalPoll results.

Also, voters gave Democrats low marks in handling inflation and economic issues. 50% stated that this was the most pressing issue they would like the federal government address. Ukraine was ranked No. 2. 25% of respondents deemed it the most important.

A majority of voters, 63%, said they disapproved of Mr. Biden’s handling of rising costs, the President’s worst rating on six policy issues surveyed in the poll. The poll found that 47% said Republicans could handle inflation better than the 30% of Democrats.

The last time JournalAccording to polls, Americans are facing a surge in Covid-19, a highly contagious Omicron variant of Covid-19, supply chain bottlenecks that caused gaps on store shelves in January and a rise in gasoline prices, which have driven inflation up to 40 year highs.

And we aren’t done. A labor impasse is possible as the West Coast union worker contract nears expiration. This could cause another economic shock.

Also, it’s going to be more expensive to buy a house.

Merrick: I think we all agree that inflation is having a major impact on how voters view lawmakers in power, and right now it’s not good for Democrats. But lots of voters still have yet to make up their mind as to who they’ll vote for in November.

If there are a large swath of key voters who are both undecided and don’t anticipate the situation getting better, does this then become more about an expectations game and the ability for Democrats to message the importance of any improvement in inflation and decreasing costs of goods?

Elliott: Thank you for sharing your insightful thoughts. It’s a pleasure to have a conversation where facts are presented and not emotions. I’ll just ask: Elon Musk’s Place your bid for Twitter—what does this do for our political discourse?

Diaz: We tend to operate in a bubble in our industry, and the number of everyday Americans who can be and are persuaded by the overall conversation in politics, whether it’s earned, organic, etc. There is very little Twitter activity. Twitter indexes people who are more influential than others, which is why it should be considered when we consider overall impact.

Merrick: Couldn’t agree with Danny more on this.

Elliott: Thank you again for sharing your insight this week.

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